cover image Patrick White Letters

Patrick White Letters

Patrick White. University of Chicago Press, $38 (677pp) ISBN 978-0-226-89503-1

White (1912-1990) once observed, ""There can't be more unattractive cold pudding than one's own old letters."" But whatever he thought of them, Marr's epistolary entree is in fact filled with fire and spice. Drawing on a prolific 70-year correspondence, including the 2000 letters he had access to for his Patrick White: A Life (1990) and another 1000 letters that became available later, Marr has collected 600 thoughtfully excerpted letters to far-flung lovers, friends, family, colleagues and even one eccentric fan. White's letters breathe with the torment, pessimism and resilient humanity of a writer who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1973 and years later would say, ""I am tired of myself. I wish I had never written a word.... It would have been more to the point if I had run a soup kitchen to feed the hungry."" The collection is rich in the play of his own words (""oxywelding,"" i.e., a second draft); a sad wisdom; and a ribald wit that skewers critics (""the archturd Clive James"") and sycophants alike. When White attacks publicity, pretension and materialism (the U.S. fares poorly) or the politics of nuclear arms and the ""recurring awfulness of human beings,"" his letters drip with venom. When he writes of what he loves-reading, music, art, theater, cooking, his dogs and his nearly 50-year relationship with Manoly Lascaris, the man he called ""My sweet reason""-they resonate with soulful fervor. The result is a stirring volume, a self-revelation that will both intrigue White's American audience and, aided by Marr's narrative interludes and copious footnotes, serve as an accessible, appetizing introduction to White's life and work. (June)